Home / news / The war metaphor and shifting connotations … How has the Corona pandemic affected languages?

The war metaphor and shifting connotations … How has the Corona pandemic affected languages?

The impact of the Corona pandemic is not limited to human health and their social and economic life, but extends all of that to the languages ​​that they speak, as the pandemic introduced some vocabulary to the spoken languages, while some words, such as social distancing and distance, acquired a special connotation that was not common before the outbreak of the virus. Newcomer, in addition to that, some metaphors and metaphors became more common and associated with public health.

English and its dictionary

In April of this year, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary did an unusual job. For the past 20 years they have been releasing quarterly updates to announce new words and meanings to be chosen for inclusion in the dictionary, but late last spring, and again last July, dictionary editors released special updates, citing the need to document the impact of the pandemic on language. English, according to an article by Professor of Psychology at the University of Memphis, Roger J. Cross, for The Conversation.

The Oxford Online Dictionary is reintroduced (Al Jazeera)

The Oxford English Dictionary aspires to be the most comprehensive and complete record of the English language and its history, and in 1884 parts of the first edition were issued, and it was not completed until 1928. Over the following years, additional volumes of new words were published to supplement the first edition, and they were merged into The second version appeared in 1989. This is the version that is found in most libraries. In 1992 it was followed by a digital release on CD.

In March 2000, the dictionary launched an online version. For this new edition, editors have revised definitions dating back to the first version, which in many cases are more than a century old. Due to its size, this third edition will not appear in print, and these reviews may not be completed until 2034.

Old and new

Coronavirus special updates give a glimpse of how language can rapidly change in the face of unprecedented social and economic disruption. For example, one of the effects of the pandemic is that it has incorporated previously obscure medical terms into everyday speech.

Traditionally, dictionary editors would only include scientific and technical terms if they achieved a certain degree of prevalence outside their field of specialization. This is the case for the names of some common drugs, such as the drug “Dexamethasone” (Dexaméthasone), which British doctors say has reduced the death rate associated with Corona disease.

Terms related to social isolation were present long before the Corona pandemic, but they became more common in 2020, which witnessed an increase in the use of terms such as self-isolation, quarantine, and others.

Some regional differences also appear in the language of Corona, the term self-isolation was the preferred term in British English, while self-quarantine is used more commonly in the United States, and since the Oxford English Dictionary is edited and published in England, the British uses It has priority in the dictionary.

A war metaphor

Since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, world leaders have not stopped borrowing the term “war” to describe policies dealing with the spread of the emerging virus, and the language of the pandemic has become very military, as we “fight” the virus, and our bodies have “defense” mechanisms against the pathogens that “invade” it.

While the metaphor seems inevitable to express the insufficiency of the direct meaning even if the war is against an invisible enemy, researchers in the language say that the use of metaphors of war is similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, its prevalence may bring the burdens of war to reality, just as the use of fighting language And war when thinking about disease can jump on the lessons learned from it and the deep structural problems that the pandemic has exposed.

Nevertheless, political leaders did not stop using war metaphors. In the beginning, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to wage a “popular war” on the virus, and the response continued with the transmission of the pandemic to Europe, as French President Emmanuel Macron declared that the country is at war with a “enemy that is not” Visible far fetched. “

The Italian special commissioner for emergencies caused by the coronavirus said that the country must prepare itself for a “war economy”, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered that the battle of his citizens with the pandemic “in which every citizen has been recruited.” In the United States, US President Donald Trump described himself as “a president in wartime,” and in Egypt the media used the term “Egypt’s White Army” to describe doctors who deal with the disease.

Some writers believe that the metaphor of “war” in describing the policies of dealing with the Corona pandemic, can cause stigmatization of patients who are unable to fight this pandemic, and direct blame implicitly on them, as it affects our way of thinking, and makes pandemic deaths merely collateral damage to combat war, Moreover, the word “war” implies aggression and pervasive power, and does not express the concepts of care that should be common in times of pandemic.

In fact, rhetorical metaphors are inevitable, and humans will continue to use them to imagine the world because our brains tend to this way of working, but the human imagination is worth thinking about new metaphors and metaphors regardless of what political leaders prefer.

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